What are iBeacons and how can they be used in facilities?

by Editor
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Most Australians would have no idea what an iBeacon is, but a study carried out by ABI Research predicts that by 2019, there would be 60 million iBeacon-like devices in the world.

What is an iBeacon?

An iBeacon is a matchbox-sized bluetooth device that broadcasts a unique coded bluetooth signal.

Smart phones and tablets that have bluetooth enabled detect this signal, and apps running on that device may be programmed to trigger and respond accordingly with some sort of user interaction — effectively creating location-based awareness of that user, and the ability to communicate with them — based on current location, and anything else the app may know about them, thus bridging the gap between the physical and the digital world.

It is one of the major innovations in the Internet of Things (IOT) journey the developed world is currently on.

So much like website and app development, the race is now on to craft the most contextual, relevant and meaningful beacon experience possible.

An application that uses this technology in it’s simplest form, is attaching a beacon to a child, pet or set of keys for example. There are apps that use a radar-like interface to display the distance and orientation of the object (or creature) to which it is attached in relation to the smart device.

Importantly, for the beacons to interact with an app, it must be operating in the background of the device, and the user must also have opted in to receive notifications. So if the app isn’t useful and creates some value for the user, they may not opt in.

There has been a lot of excitement about what beacons are capable of and how businesses can use these devices to enhance customer experience to build brand and increase revenue.

Whilst most marketers are focused on vouchers and push notifications, the most game changing applications thus far appear to be in the facility management and smart building space.

The 10 best uses for beacons in a facility

Greet customers when they arrive, send them specials, loyalty programs and contact-less payments.

Tracking inventory
Most beacons have an inbuilt accelerometer that can alert you when the object it’s attached to is being moved. Hospitals can monitor the location of medical equipment and assets, for example. Supermarkets baskets and trolleys can have beacons attached to track customer behaviour, dwell times and flow.

Indoor billboards and screens advertising now can have more impact using push notification to passers by to create campaign interaction. Beacon analytics collected can validate the dollar spend with the owner of the space.

Hot spotting
For the first time ever a retail business can map their store in real-time and document the movements of their customers that have the iBeacon enabled App.

This can provide information on how long they were in the store, dwell times, and where they spent their time. Most beacon providers offer campaign management systems to also enable proximity based marketing capabilities to send offers and other interactive content to the user based on location.

First class travel experience
If the beacon idea is reversed and the user has the beacon actually in a VIP card for example, airlines are able know who is in front of them when the client is approaching the counter at the airport lounge, for example. The airline could also have the full history of the customer pop up on their CRM screen, and be able to greet them. Also, iBeacon attached to luggage can trigger an alert when bags are at the carousel.

Smart buildings
Advanced beacons have thermostats built in, which can help monitor the varying temperatures in a building and trigger notifications and changes accordingly.

Staff tracking
Beacons attached to name badges allow staff tracking in real time. In a casino for instance, a map of the gaming floor can be used with colour coded markers of the location of security staff, gaming attendants, cleaners, or a drinks waiter for example. The analytic that can be derived include showing where the security staff are, where they have been, and how long it took them to move from point A to B. The app may also be crafted to allow the staff member to interact, including reminders of tasks that need to be completed at each location (i.e. cleaning) and the ability to interact with the app to mark completion of these tasks, and even attached a time-stamped photo as confirmation.

Indoor navigation
Whilst we are all familiar with GPS to get us around, unfortunately indoors and amongst tall buildings, the technology is inaccurate.

With the triangulation of the iBeacon signal, you can create very accurate indoor navigation. Rather then hunting for the information counter at a shopping centre, shoppers can now use an app to receive accurate navigation, similar to that you would expect in a car GPS.

Logistics & asset tracking
Tracking the temperature, movement and location of goods real-time. Businesses that manage a large quantity of expensive inventory may use beacons to track the location of those items within a certain location. They may also use the system to identify when they’re removed from store room, by whom, and to where they then go – to simplify asset tracking, and replacing the cumbersome manual processes currently used for this purpose.

Disability Access
One of the best applications of beacons so far is for the vision-impaired.

Using an app and earpiece, vision-impaired individuals can receive verbal navigation and location information to guide them on their journey through the built environment, removing many risks and encouraging them to visit public places which may have previously been far too difficult.

Why then has the technology not taken off as expected in Australia?

Whilst many of the developed world countries including USA, UK, and many across Europe and South America are rolling out beacon projects thick and fast, it seems Australia is in a holding pattern, waiting on the sidelines for someone to go first.

New technology often comes with an expensive price tag, being the biggest hurdle for new adopters, however price is probably one of the best features when considering an iBeacon rollout; a facility activation could cost as little as $5,000 to $10,000.

Organisations are often reluctant to be the guinea pigs for new technology, but most vendors can provide a tried and tested out of the box solution.

Security and Privacy

There is unfortunately some fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding security, creating reluctance for organisations and municipalities to implement. The reality is, that whilst the app interacts with the beacon, there is no transfer of information which can identify the user. The Cloud platform which monitors the data only knows that a person with a corresponding App is interacting with the beacon. That said, whilst the identity is not known, there is significant amounts of data collected, which forms currency for the gatekeeper of the platform.


While there is a long list of fantastic features and use cases for beacons, in the end, the implementation much be elegant. A common concern is around marketing “spam”, and the concern of users receiving far too many notifications from beacon power apps. The power does lie in the hand of the organisation providing the apps — if they create apps that aren’t user friendly, and are more of a hindrance than a help, then users will not engage, and will learn to disable or ignore the notifications.

It’s just a matter of time before companies and users grasp the full capability of this platform, but in Australia, it’s still a little bit too early. It does however, provoke the question: How long in this day and age should it take for market adoption to take place? Perhaps early resistance is due to the lack of awareness of the technology’s capability, and the hesitation around the very hot topic of security and privacy.


The author, Chris Bertacco, is the founder and Director of iGuide Australia.

Photo credit: Dynamic Leap technologies

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